king stone dairy farm visit
A cold, dreary February morning, the La Fromagerie team meet at Paddington station; ready to embark on a farm visit to King Stone Dairy, the makers of Rollright. We’ve been selling Rollright since August 2015, when it first came to market and it has been a staple favourite of the Cheese Room ever since. A short train journey later and our surrounds have transformed; “we’re not in London anymore” seems to be the general look on the cheesemongers’ faces. Located on the borders of Warwickshire and Oxfordshire, King Stone Farm overlooks the North Cotswolds and seems the idyllic setting for traditional cheese-making. No one is surprised when our taxi hobbles down a dirt track, trudging across the bumpy terrain and as we get out of the car it’s clear that the warning to “wear old shoes” is completely justified. Within seconds a cheerful man greets us, beckoning us inside and we enter a modest room, which appears to serve as an office, changing room, break area, storage unit and visitor reception. The walls are decorated with various competition ribbons; including “Best New Cheese” and “Best Cheese in Show” from the Artisan Cheese Awards in Rollright’s first year of production!
We recognise the cheerful man as David Jowett, the cheese-maker behind Rollright, although we are all somewhat taken aback by the fresh-faced 26-year-old whose reputation precedes him… Patricia met David several years ago, when he was first contemplating becoming a cheesemaker, and they discussed together the pros and cons of different cheese styles. During this experimental stage we welcomed his visits with samples of Rollright for us to taste and compare. Even then we were impressed by the flavours, rind and texture of the cheese; a real demonstration of his expertise, which was no surprise since his impressive CV includes working with Ram Hall Farm, Paxton and Whitfield, Berkswell, Stichelton, the Cellars at Jasper Hill Farm, Neal’s Yard Dairy and Gorsehill Abbey Farm (and that’s not to mention training in culinary arts and a diploma from the School of Artisan Food!). It’s an understatement to say that we’re excited to spend the day with him, what is a pleasant surprise is how excited David appears to have us there; soon we’ll realise just how much he loves his job. While we don our protective gear and sanitise our hands, David tells us that we’ve arrived at a great time: the milk has been pasteurised, cooled down to cheese-making temperature, the cultures have been added and it’s almost time to add the rennet.
As we enter the cheese-making room our eyes are instantly drawn to the round Dutch cheese vat, encased in wooden panelling and cast-iron surrounds; the excitement builds. David explains that the cultures have started converting the milk’s lactose into lactic acid. When the desired level is reached we watch David add the traditional rennet, coagulating the liquid milk. We help record the pH of the curd, but this is where David’s cheese-making craftsmanship and experience are crucial; as we see him judge the readiness of the set primarily by touch and eye. After around 50 minutes David is happy with the consistency, which looks somewhere in-between jelly and custard, and so David takes his cheese harp and cuts the curd. Some of the whey is released and the vat is left alone for a few minutes, allowing the now hundreds of thousands of curd cubes to rest.
We then see the art at its finest, as David slowly starts to stir the curds – gently and with purpose – separating the particles from each other, but careful not to damage the fragile pieces. The non-uniform size of the cubes remind us of the uniqueness of the cheese, the character of hand-made production and romance of traditional cheese-making. Again, once he’s happy with the consistency, David draws off more whey and the moulding begins. This requires him to work fast; moving the curds into the perforated moulds in 12-15 minutes. We watch in awe as the curds knit together and the whey drains away freely.
In the afternoon we get to be somewhat useful as David puts us to work turning the moulds, to help drain the whey and evenly shape the new cheeses. The pressure is written across each of our faces, but it certainly adds to our excited anticipation of receiving that specific batch of Rollright, which we can now legitimately say was made with the assistance of La Fromagerie hands.
It’s been busy and we are beyond excited to receive our batch of "La Fromagerie Rollright" in store… but we realise that David has plenty of work still ahead of him before this cheese will become Rollright; the days (and weeks) to come will involve salting, spruce-wrapping, brine-washing, ripening, turning, hand-packing and all the admin that goes along with it. And only then will we be able to take all the credit for all of David's hard work!